Nigel Henderson talks to a coach whose interest in mental health issues has uncovered a worrying trend
Depression and anxiety are manifesting among cricketers as young as ten, according to a leading coach and advocate for good mental health.
Lindsay Moody, who worked with England captain Joe Root at the age of 12 and had a short career in Sussex’s 2nd XI, worries that parental expectation is making the problem far worse than in previous generations, with players under almost unbearable pressure to perform.
Moody, who recently qualified as a mental health first-aider, also believes that cricket itself exposes difficulties that might be pre-existing, such as issues over child abuse.
“The pressure from their parents, and their peers, is huge,” he says. “If you win a few matches and do well it’s enormous for the kid; but the devastation on their faces when the district or performance squad is whittled down from 120 boys to 80 boys is massive. For some of them it’s the end of the world.
“They’re all Ok when things are going well. But when they’re not … you know what the modern world’s like. It’s only interested in the good ‘uns, not in the bad ‘uns and not interested in the good ‘uns when they lose form. There has always been that but the expectancy from parents is greater than in the past
“If you go to any district session most of the cars that turn up are Mercedes, Jaguars, Porsches. They want their sons to do well. I have so many issues with parents coming down and trying to talk to their kids and I say – can you let me deal with it? But I know that when they go away they’re going to be going on at them. It starts there, that’s my issue, and when they grow older, if you’re not careful, it stays with them.”
Some youngsters bring difficulties from other areas of their lives. “Cricket has a way of bringing out problems out because it’s such a game of the mind,” he says.
A man who spent more than a decade as head coach of the Surrey women’s team, Moody adds: “It’s there with girls as well as the women’s game becomes higher profile and the financial rewards higher but not as much as the boys. And rightly or wrongly, now that England have got central contracts, they compare themselves with the men, which has its own concerns.”
Moody, who has spent much of his 40-year coaching career in Surrey, Kent and Yorkshire, also cautions that the three Australians at the centre of the ball-tampering scandal will need careful watching in the months ahead as their suspensions take hold.
“Steve Smith was broken in that interview,” he says in reference to the Australian’s press conference on his arrival in Sydney. “He was getting really emotional, it wasn’t false. My gut instinct is that Warner will recover quite well, he is generally able to express his anger. For Smith, this is something new. He’s worked his way up to where he is – the comparisons with Don Bradman. But he won’t have experienced anything like this.
“But I could be wrong. This is why you have to speak to them all and analyse them very carefully.”
It is not all bad news, however. Moody, who suffered a broken hip that went undiagnosed for two years in his teens, found his way to the top at Hove blocked by a team packed with overseas stars such as Javed Miandad, bringing him his own confrontation with depression and anxiety that at one point resulted in him having to be sent home from a tour to the Caribbean. It is what makes him so determined to succeed in his offshoot career, one in which he hopes to train people in all walks of life to spot the triggers for mental health problems.
“I’ve been in discussions with the ECB and I want to go into every county and national team and train them up. This is not about treatment, it is about having people in situ so players know who to go to. Things can be going on for a long time before they erupt and this would help in guiding them towards professional help. It’s long overdue.”